Children can have fears about things like darkness, dogs, and wasps. Here’s how you can help your little one overcome fear and be less afraid.
As your child grows and gets older, she gets to explore the world more. As a result, fears start to appear.
Infants can be scared of unfamiliar faces. Toddlers may get startled by water disappearing down the drain. Preschoolers are often frightened of animals.
The good news is that your child will outgrow many of her fears, but you can help make the process quicker and more pleasant.
Let your child share her fear with you.
Children have have phobias of pretty much anything, ranging from wasps and strangers to clowns and loud noises.
In fact, fear is so common that research suggests that 9% of children and adolescents have it.
The first thing you want to do to help your child overcome fear is to let her get comfortable and share her fear with you.
Calmly ask her what she is scared of and why. Is she scared that if she sits in the bathtub, she’ll get sucked down the drain? Or, is she scared that if a bee stings her, she’ll die?
Also, try to get the tiniest details about her phobia. What makes the wasps scary? Did a wasp sting you?
It’s of great importance to discover the source of her fears so that you can take the next steps.
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Use humor to overcome fear.
Humor is a useful tool that can be used to help your child overcome fear.
This approach includes using playfulness to collaborate with your child in a funny manner that she finds interesting.
For example, if your child is scared of bugs, one idea is to have her Lego figures stomp on plastic bugs, tossing them in a wastebasket.
Or, if she’s scared of monsters, you can get a bottle and fill it with a mixture of water and some lavender oil. Attach a label on the bottle that says “Monster Spray” and tell your child that this spray will keep the monster away. Tell her that monsters are scared of water, and the lavender makes their nose itch.
The goal is for your child to laugh, smile, and feel supported by you.
In fact, playful humor can have multiple benefits, such as reduced anxiety, helping children tolerate their exposure to the fear trigger.
But the best thing about humor is that it can be applied in any environment. It can be used at home, at school, and with children of various ages and various development profiles.
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Gradually expose your child to the thing she fears.
Combining humor with gradual exposure can also be helpful in helping your child overcome fear.
What some parents do is they start accommodating their child’s fears. If the child is scared of dogs, they’ll start avoiding dogs altogether. Or, if the child is afraid of the darkness, they’ll start co-sleeping with their child.
However, this will only make things worse.
This doesn’t mean that you should force your child to sleep alone in a dark room and say, “Bye! Be brave! See you in the morning!” Doing so will only make her terrified and distrustful of you.
Instead, it would help if you gradually expose your child to the thing he fears.
When my son was two years old, he developed a fear of dogs. What I did is I began by talking more about dogs. We would look up dogs online, read some fun facts about them, and watch funny videos of dogs and babies.
At the same time, I shared heartening facts like that dogs often bark because they want to say hello.
Then with time, as your child gets more comfortable, start increasing her exposure to the thing that scares her. Don’t forget to praise her every time she makes progress.
In my case, I started taking my son to our neighbor’s house, watching his dog from a distance. We were talking to the dog, and I was saying things like “look, he’s wailing his tail, which means he really likes you,” or, “look how he wants to play all day, just like you.”
He was still slightly scared, but he didn’t run or scream. It was then when I knew we were making progress.
[Read the importance of a child bedtime routine in sleep training.]
Make a plan.
The next step is to work with your child and make a plan.
For example, if she’s scared of the dark and needs you to sit next to her while she falls asleep, make a plan that she’ll try to fall asleep on her own by the end of the week.
Here’s how the plan may work:
- Night 1: Read two books, turn off the lights, put on a nightlight, and sit with her until she falls asleep.
- Night 2: Read one book, turn off the lights, and put on a nightlight. Leave the door cracked.
- Night 3: Read one book, put on a nightlight, and close the door.
- Night 4: Read one book, then lights out, and close the door.
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Seek help from a therapist.
Luckily, most child phobias are treatable, and in general, they are not a sign of a serious mental illness.
However, sometimes a child’s fear might persist and interfere with her day-to-day life. If this is the case with your child, she might benefit from professional help from an experienced therapist specializing in child anxiety.